Sunday, February 10, 2013

A "Plague" of Robins

Late last week, I commented on a post by Grizz at his Riverdaze... blog that American Robins (Turdus migratorius) had, so far, failed to strip the tiny fruits from my crabapple tree as they usually do much earlier in the winter.  Well, the major winter storm that buried New England and New York only left three inches of snow here in the northern Piedmont, but it was enough to send the overwintering robins into a feeding frenzy.  As I shoveled the walks and drive on Saturday morning, hordes of robins descended on the crabapple tree and feasted.

Just a few of the dozens of American Robins gorging themselves on crabapples
Winter has been pretty mild so far this year, so the birds have found alternate sources of food in the thickets where they hide.  I suspect that crabapples don't have much fat content, so the overwintering berry eaters prefer other fattier fruits.  But winter's winding down now, and the birds have harvested much of the other available fruit; they must be becoming desperate.

My dependents eat even before I do (but I have admit I brewed coffee first)
A Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta candensis).  These northern visitors were more numerous at the beginning of winter, but a few have hung around all season.
A few more snowy images.  This was our first substantial snowfall of the season.

View down to the pond behind my residence
The old-field just beyond my front lawn
My Prius is all flocked up
The east end of my residence, added in 1833 to an existing 1791 house

British contemporary dance/movement company Motionhouse performed Scattered in Philadelphia on Saturday night. For 70 uninterrupted minutes Kali and I were mesmerized by seven young dancers interacting very, very vigorously with a "half-pipe" curved wall onto which was projected a video exploring water in all its forms. The piece worked so magically well that I honestly expected the performers to be soaking wet after an extended set in which they played on a virtual waterfall. Bravo, Motionhouse!


Doug Hickok said...

There are plenty of robins in these parts too, especially in big flocks, roaming the suburbs and city parks. Your snow looks gorgeous, and the performance looks very unique and exciting!

packrat said...


That "plague" of Robins had me thinking Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," so I'm glad you came out of it OK. Dr. K's Prius is the exact same color as yours. What a cool-looking residence you have. And, finally, I wish I could have seen that dance production with water; it looks fascinating. Great blog post.

Scott said...

Doug: I'd expect robins in South Carolina (especially this time of year), but few people expect them in the northern Piedmont in February. Actually, they're here all the time; people just don't notice. I get questions all the time about "When will the robins be back?" "Well, they may be back in greater numbers in the spring, but they're here all year!"

The snow was nice for most of Saturday, but today, with bright, sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 30s, our 3" are all but gone. Tomorrow, we're supposed to have rain with temperatures reaching 52, so it will definitely all disappear.

The performance by "Motionhouse" WAS spectacular. I think they're on their inaugural North American tour (though they've been together for 25 years). Watch to see if they're coming your way, and then go see them if you can!

Scott said...

Packrat: No vicious attacks a la "The Birds" from these robins,but there certainly were enough of them to do real damage if they had set their mind to it.

(Before I got a pet parrot [an 8" Meyer's parrot], I used to think that the depiction of the attacks in "The Birds" was overblown--for goodness sake, they're "just" birds! Well, when my one single parrot gets upset with me, he can cause all sorts of havoc, not the least of which is drawing blood--repeatedly. So, now I can sympathize with Tippi Hedron.)

Our Prius is a 2006; they don't offer them in that color any more.

The performance by "Motionhouse" was fabulous, but not everyone was so impressed. The woman sitting next to me looked at her watch a couple of times,and the couple sitting behind us (who we've gotten to know over the years) said afterward, "The music was too loud!" The music WAS loud, but it wasn't TOO loud (except in a few places for short periods); it was meant to immerse the audience in the performance. We're so glad we got to see them.

The original part of our residence was built in 1791, doubled in size in 1833, and then doubled in size again and thoroughly modernized in 1925. There's not much original remaining except for the very thick stone walls and the very low ceilings in the oldest parts of the house.

Carolyn H said...

What a lovely snow you had--only a dusting here on Roundtop and that now gone with the freezing rain this morning. I've been trying to find robins all winter. Usually, small flocks are easily found near springs and open water. Not around here this year.

robin andrea said...

We have robins here all year, but they don't always hang around where we can see them. About feeding birds, I've had to remind myself lately that the birds here are natives, they have to know where else to find food. I am a secondary source, not primary.

robin andrea said...

I wanted to add, we do have Anna Hummingbirds here all year. It surprises me to see them because they seem so out of place here in winter. I do take in their feeders on the coldest nights and put them out in the morning just after I've set the kettle on the stove to make tea.

Scott said...

Carolyn: You're right; it was a lovely snow. However, at the risk of sounding lie a winter curmudgeon, the snow's all gone now, and the soil is saturated and mucky-which, of course, is as it should be this time of year, but it precludes going for a pleasant walk in lots of places.

It's so strange to hear that you don't have any robins this year; they're always around here (as it sounds like they usually are near you).

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: My wife Kali is reviewing a book called "Walking Seasonal Roads" for the Natural Areas Association Journal. It's natural history observed by walking rural dirt roads in upstate New York. Last evening, she came to a chapter about observing Common Ravens, and she asked me, "Are there ravens in New York?" My initial reaction was "No" but the author certainly observed them, so there must be. I consulted my Sibley's and found that ravens just barely make it into extreme south-central New York and extreme northeast New York. In the course of looking through Sibley's I noticed that he commented that "though the species present at a given location in winter and summer may be the same, individual winter birds are not necessarily the same individual birds as the summer birds." This lends credence to my conjecture that the bluebirds (and robins?) that I see may be birds that have moved south from higher latitudes, and that my summer robins (and bluebirds?) have gone south as well. Your Anna's may be just the same; perhaps your winter
Anna's are from further north and are heartier as a result.

I agree that the birds in the winter are used to the vagaries of the weather. However, I'll bet that, without supplemental feeding, many more birds die than they they do when they're being fed. In fact, I have read articles about studies that have demonstrated that wild birds receiving supplemental winter feeding display higher levels of fitness during the following breeding season than birds that have not had the advantage of access to feeders. So, keep on warming up those hummingbird feeders!